Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Holiday Stress

I've received several emails in the past couple of weeks aimed at helping me de-stress for the holidays, like "Six tips for heading off holiday fatigue" and "Ten Holiday Survival Tips", etc. Invariably, the number one suggestion on these lists is to "make a plan." So a few days ago I sat down and made a list of everything I want and/or need to do in December. All I can say is,

HELP!!!!!!!!!!!!! PANIC ATTACK!!!!!!!!!!!!

So, on to the next suggestions, "Be realistic," and "Don't be afraid to say no."

It's normal for me to get close to a deadline (and Christmas is definitely a deadline looming large on the horizon) and start looking for things I can "not do" on my list, but here I am a month out and I'm already at that point. So before I can go any further on my to-do list, I must


...slowly, through my nose, inhale, exhale...

Okay. Now that I'm thinking more clearly, here are some things that I think will help me get through the next month:

Pick one or two outside functions to attend and say no to the rest. We're taking the local grandkids to The Nutcracker (I bought a block of seats so I can be surrounded by unscented family), and I'd like to take a nighttime drive to see the lights, but I'll skip the church Nativity display, the community Festival of Trees and the symphony's rendition of The Messiah (I really hate missing this, but they do it in the Catholic cathedral, which is very small and no where to escape).

Plan shopping trips to be early morning, mid-week and short, and shop online as much as possible. Actually, I have most of my shopping done, so I can breathe on that one.

Stick to a budget. Ahhhh, this is a hard one for me. I see so many things I want to get for the great people I love.

Stick to a regular routine of eating and sleeping. This is a hard one too. It's oh so tempting to stretch the hours in the day or skip a meal while out shopping. But for me, this is probably the MOST important thing I can do to stay healthy.

Buck tradition. Nowhere is it written in stone that you must have a full turkey dinner for Thanksgiving (we're having chicken) or make homemade goodies or ornaments for everyone you know. And, as I discovered last year, the etiquette fairies will not put an eternal curse on you if you don't handwrite the addresses on your Christmas cards (or don't send them at all). I actually really enjoy sending and receiving cards, so this is one thing I'm not ready to give up yet, but my arthritic hands simply can't survive the handwriting. So printed labels save the day. The only reason we still put up a Christmas tree is because the grandkids enjoy it so much, so I have them come over and decorate it for me and also take it down after Christmas. Why should I do all the work?

Which leads me to the last suggestion: Let others help. I have a hard time with this one sometimes too. There are some end-of-the year things that are easier to do myself, like updating business records (ready for taxes) and writing the family Christmas letter, but I'm sure there are things that others could do just as well. Or, better yet, could be left undone.

Any other ideas for reducing the December stress load? I need all the help I can get.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Art as Stress Reducer

No matter what the illness, stress of any kind (mental, emotional, physical) only makes it worse. Legions of books and articles have been written about stress reduction, but for me personally, the best stress reducer of all is any form of art, i.e. literature, music or visual. I am fortunate enough to have been raised in a home where the arts were valued (an understatement) in all forms, and I learned to enjoy them both as an observer and as a participant.

Hanging on the wall over my computer desk is an oil painting of a still life done by a close friend. When I am feeling stressed over a work project or something in an email, I have only to look up at the gentle tulips in their blue crockery vase to immediately feel a sense of peace.

As I'm out running errands (usually in a hurry, trying to avoid too much perfume exposure), my radio is often tuned to NPR's Performance Today or From the Top, where I can listen to old classical favorites which I used to perform in orchestral and chamber music (back before my back gave out and I sold my cello).

And then, of course, there is my favorite form of art--literature. My mother once wrote in her journal, "If I didn't have some time for reading every day, I felt cheated." My sentiments exactly. There is nothing more relaxing to me than curling up in my favorite chair, wrapped in an afghan and reading a good book.

On Sunday afternoons, when I am all alone and feeling sorry for myself, nothing lifts my spirit like the tickling of the ivories underneath my fingers on the keys of my piano. Whether it's Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata," Debussy's "Clair de Lune" or a quiet arrangement of "Abide With Me", the rest of the world disappears as the notes carry me into some other sphere.

While organizing some old family photos some time ago, I came across a postcard in my Grandmother Valborg's things with the following verse written on the back in her handwriting. I have no idea who originally penned these words, if they are her own or some she heard and just jotted down on the closest available paper. But they much more eloquently express my feelings about art.

We sing to ease our sorrows
Or the hunger in the heart
And this becomes the magic
And the miracle of art:

That even in the utterance
The hunger is assuaged.
And in the very singing
The captive is uncaged.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Thanksgiving Dinner--Healthy and Chemical Free

The traditional family Thanksgiving dinner can really be a challenge for people with chemical and food sensitivities, but with a little bit of planning, everyone can have a good time and fill their bellies too. Here are some suggestions that work in our family.

We keep the group small (just ten of us this year), and everyone comes fragrance-free. When they get here, coats and shoes are left at the front door. As for food, here is this year's menu:

Two whole free-range organic chickens (raised by a local Hutterite colony), baked with herbs
Cornbread stuffing casserole (cornbread made gluten-free & egg-free with organic cornmeal and rice flour)
Green beans (frozen from our garden)
Mashed potatoes (made with Yukon gold potatoes from our garden and organic chicken broth)
Pumpkin/rice flour muffins (pumpkin is frozen from our garden) served with organic butter (from Costco)
Frozen organic mixed berries (also from Costco) served with fresh whipped cream (O-organic brand from Safeway) for dessert

With the exception of the whipped cream and the butter, this entire meal is free of gluten, eggs, dairy and soy and sugar. All of the food will be cooked in (and leftovers stored in) glass dishes, which are wiped with olive oil to prevent sticking.

I know, now you're asking, "Where's the turkey and pumpkin pie? And what about cranberry sauce and green Jello?"

Actually, this will be the first year I haven't cooked a turkey. The truth is, natural turkeys just aren't that good to eat, unless you cook them the way my mother used to, which requires hours of hand basting and results in a very messy oven, and I would rather spend the time visiting with my guests. The traditional pumpkin is put into muffins instead of pie, and the berries replace the green Jello. As for cranberry sauce, no one in the family really likes it, so why bother?

Perhaps this won't be Thanksgiving as I remember it as a child, but there are holdovers with the stuffing casserole and pumpkin muffins. And if we weren't trying to stay dairy-free, I would definitely make pumpkin pies (at least the custard filling without the crust). Yummmmm!

Any other ideas?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Ahhhh, the Sweet Aroma...

People with chemical sensitivities are always sniffing for threatening fragrances. There are so many smells that signal Trouble (yes, with a capital T). But all of our sniffing doesn't have to be negative. Last week I started a list of things I love to smell. Here it is for your perusal.

onions cooking in butter (the smell of Thanksgiving morning)
grapes steaming into grape juice
fresh hay or alfalfa (I like the smell of it, but will break out into a rash if I get near it)
the mint fields of western Oregon
the air after rain
dirt (full of organic compost, of course)
tomatoes fresh from the garden
applesauce cooking on the stove
sweaty little kid bodies after playing outside
the ocean
the mock orange blossoms outside my bedroom window
Daphne blossoms (outside my bedroom window in the last house)
wet wool
fresh olive oil
peppermint tea
the onions stored in my garage
my husband's homemade bread (I can't eat it, but I love to smell it)

Now, Friends, what would you add to this list (that isn't produced by a chemical substance, of course)?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


hope v. To wish for something with expectation. -n. A desire accompanied by confident expectation.

We must accept finite disappointment, but we must never lose infinite hope.
~Martin Luther King Jr.

Life without idealism is empty indeed. We just hope or starve to death.
~Pearl S. Buck

The very least you can do in your life is to figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof.
~Barbara Kingsolver

Hope sees the invisible, feels the intangible and achieves the impossible.

Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is to not stop questioning.
~Albert Einstein

But if we hope for what we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.
~Romans 8:25

Hope in the face of difficulty, hope in the face of uncertainty, the audacity of hope: In the end, that is God's greatest gift to us, the bedrock of this nation, a belief in things not seen, a belief that there are better days ahead.
~Barack Obama

Wherefore, there must be faith; and if there must be faith there must also be hope; and if there must be hope there must also be charity.
~Moroni 10:20

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard,
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I've heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.
~Emily Dickenson